An injured employee’s attitude that they will return to work safely has a lot more to do with expectations than the nature of the injury. People who are empowered by their caregivers to get better are much more likely to return to full function.
The longer a case takes to resolve, the greater the likelihood of “doctor shopping,” litigation, extended treatment duration and needless disability.
Over the years, I’ve found that what the treating provider says to an employee during the initial treatment encounter outweighs all other factors in determining the ultimate case outcome. Encouraging early, safe return to work and focusing on ability rather than disability from the very first day is the best way to ensure success.
The majority of injured workers want to get well and go back to work. However, in too many cases, injured workers are “medicalized” during the course of treatment. When workers are beset with job restrictions, asked to repeatedly focus on pain ratings and given prescriptions for narcotic medications, for example, they are forced to focus on problems that don’t promote function and for which they are berated at a later date (e.g., “All he can do is complain about his pain”).
People who have had an injury often fear that working will make it worse. Those fears can be allayed when a medical professional takes time to explain the healing process, discusses function rather than pain and focus on the individual’s needs. This type of engagement is also more rewarding for the care provider.
Workers still need correct diagnosis and treatment in getting better; this medical guidance is a bridge to the functional goal. Each worker/patient that I have assisted with return to function has showed me that this approach works best.
In the end, it is also necessary that the employer be involved, which means appreciating and supporting the worker in getting better. Some of us get more involved than others. Return to work is really the end product of an agreement that work can be accomplished.
If employers, medical providers and workers all have the goal of return to function/work from the beginning, progress is much easier to gain, and it is a measurable goal.